Coming to Blows: White Collar Episode 4.09 ‘Gloves Off’ Recap and Review
The search for information on Neal Caffrey’s father and Ellen Parker’s killers reached a critical point in last night’s White Collar episode, ‘Gloves Off,’ as the infiltration of a “Fight Club” style boxing match (in which winners receive illegal insider trading tips), and the building tension between Neal Caffrey and his FBI agent handler Peter Burke led to an unexpectedly realistic fight that could mean the end of their friendship.
The episode opens where last week’s ended, with Neal, Peter, and Mozzie starting to watch the video that Ellen Parker left for Neal in case of her death. The video reveals that Neal’s father made a deal with prosecutors to supply evidence on crimes he was involved in, which forced his family (and former partner Ellen) into the Witness Protection Program. Neal is upset, thinking his father did this only to save himself, but Peter suggests that perhaps Neal’s father was just trying to protect them. Neal wants to show the tape to Sam, the undercover cop that Ellen told him to trust, but Peter wants to involve the FBI. Neal protests, knowing that Sam won’t agree to help him find Ellen’s killer if the FBI are involved. Peter than makes a deal with Neal: He won’t tell anyone at the FBI about the tape, if Neal will keep it secret from Sam. Mozzie watches with Elizabeth as Peter and Neal converse. Elizabeth thinks Neal looks as if he’s taking the news well; Mozzie watches the two shaking hands on their new pact, and without knowing the exact substance of the agreement astutely observes “Clearly they’re lying to each other.”
Mozzie isn’t entirely wrong. Neal wastes no time meeting with Sam again, inviting him to his apartment. He tries to convince Sam to meet Peter Burke, but Sam flatly refuses, thinking that someone at the FBI leaked information that led to Ellen’s murder. Neal reluctantly promises Sam that he won’t bring in the FBI. Although Neal doesn’t bring up the tape with Sam, Elizabeth Burke observes their meeting and tells Peter about it. Convinced that Neal lied to him and has now told Sam about the contents of the video tape, Peter takes steps to track down Sam through the FBI.
And now, on to the sting of the week! The FBI has discovered an old acquaintance of Neal’s, Eric Dunham (Continuum’s Victor Webster), may be leaking insider stock information. Neal is prepped to reprise former stock trading persona Nick Halden to get inside Dunham’s new scam. Along the way Peter drops large hints to Neal (bringing up issues of trust and secrecy), trying to get him to admit that he has revealed information to Sam … but we viewers know he really hasn’t! Poor Neal.
Dunham’s plot turns out to be a weekly high stakes boxing night for high-powered traders: For a $25,000 buy-in, competitors literally fight each other for the right to receive secret trading tips that Dunham has illegally obtained. Neal plays fast and loose in his undercover role, driving his FBI handlers to distraction as he first signs up for the fight (costing the Bureau $25K), and then invents a role for Peter as ex-FBI-White-Collar-Agent-turned-Financial-Advisor Peter Slauson, who is the source for “Nick’s” inside information. After hurriedly creating the Slauson character’s background and office location, Peter meets Dunham and signs up to fight as well, making it clear that he wants to be matched against Nick (both to keep an eye on Neal, and to make sure that whoever wins the fight, the FBI will get the evidence to bust Dunham).
It may be a bit contrived, but the story setup makes for delicious dramatic conflict: Peter and Neal, who are both uncomfortable and withholding information from each other, now must stage a convincing fight that ends in a knockout. Mozzie, who claims to have experience as a corner man, helps Neal prepare. Agent Jones, it turns out, has actual boxing experience, and volunteers to choreograph a realistic fight between Neal and Peter that will end with Peter dealing Neal a knockout blow. The two of them really get into the spirit, obviously enjoying themselves as they practice the signals, punches, and staged falls. (To be honest, Tim DeKay looks quite a bit more believable as a boxer than Matt Bomer, who seems to switch back and forth from right to left-handed, and doesn’t know how to keep his guard up. However, they both look great sweaty and shirtless! But I digress.)
Meanwhile, unknown to Neal, Peter tracks down Sam and makes a surprise visit to his apartment. Sam greets him with a gun in his hand, and makes it very clear that he does not want Peter’s help. He wants to know if Neal asked Peter to come; Peter says he came on his own, but it’s hard to tell if Sam believes him.
Later, just as Neal and Peter are about to enter the ring for their boxing match, Neal’s phone rings. It’s Sam, saying that Peter’s visit obviously tipped off someone, and they’re now on Sam’s tail. He’s leaving, and doesn’t want to see Neal again. Neal is devastated, and instead of reproducing the choreographed stage fight where he takes the fall, he pounds on Peter with real fury, coming very close to winning several times. This is actually the climactic release for the tension that’s been building for the last several episodes, and both actors sink their teeth into it like pit bulls, especially Matt Bomer, who unleashes a previously hidden angry side of affable Neal Caffrey as he hits Peter repeatedly. Peter is forced to retaliate with more force than he had planned on, and Neal finally collapses in defeat, lying on the ground in misery as Mozzie throws in the towel.
Peter sticks around long enough to hear the promised illegal stock tips given to the winners by Dunham. Diana and Jones show up to take Dunham into custody as Peter races after Neal. He catches up to him as they arrive at Sam’s apartment, which has been ransacked; Sam is long gone. Peter accuses Neal of breaking his side of their bargain, and Neal unleashes his rage, saying that he never told Sam about the tape. He wanted to talk to Sam because Sam was the only person who knew Ellen and could help him find her killers. Neal doesn’t pull any punches in this argument; he angrily says that it’s Peter’s fault Ellen was killed. Peter tries to explain, but Neal is having none of it. He says he’ll honor his commitment to the FBI, but as far as his personal life is concerned, he and Peter are through.
The preview for next week’s episode, the summer finale, promises a twist ending with even more drama. Will Neal forgive Peter? Will Peter ever trust Neal again? And who is Sam, really?
Watch White Collar episode 4.10, ‘Vested Interest,’ Tuesday, September 18 on USA to find out.